The traveling Vietnam War Memorial came to the
Pacific Northwest a few summers ago.
We had arrived home from Montana that afternoon,
but knew we needed to summon up the energy
to give our kids a lesson in life, war, loss and pain.
We casually touched weapons that had been hauled
through dark, bug-infested, enemy-hiding jungles.
Weapons that had to kill before the handler was killed.
We grieved for all that suffered during the Viet Nam War.
As these men were talking,
my heart rejoiced that they were alive and well.
I get angry beyond reason
when I read about the treatment of the vets
when they finally returned home.
The war never really ended for them.
I wanted to throw my arms around the vets
and apologize for my country,
but I didn’t.
Instead, I shyly smiled and prayed for them as I passed by,
unable to express what was truly bursting in my heart and mind.
These were their sons and daughters, their friends, their spouses.
Though the engraved names didn’t belong to anybody we knew,
I still cried,
because I felt the pain all around me.
I wanted to throw myself down and sob out my heart,
but I didn’t.
I blinked back the tears, took pictures
and tried to share with my children the passion I felt over this monument.
These soldiers will never bring bouquets to spouses, mothers, or sweethearts.
Instead of life and love, the bouquets left for them smell of sorrow and death.
They are brought because pain makes people want to DO something.
Instead of caressing loved ones’ faces,
fingers only trace their names
etched into black, cold, lifeless marble.
Yet, everyone is thankful,
that at least there is something of the loved ones to touch.
Even if it is just a name
The shadows on the marble are reminders
of the men and women that should have been standing there.
For each life lost, dozens back home suffered
wounded hearts, empty lives and endless pain.
As with every war,
the lost of these young lives
left holes in generations.
Kids grew up without daddies,
fiances were never married,
mothers and fathers never became grandparents.
My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hayes,
pulled the roller shades down, turned off the lights,
and made us watch a documentary on the war.
I can still hear the clickety-click of the machine as she wound the film
through the reels and began playing the black and white movie.
Quickly bored, I was acting up and complaining so loudly,
she stopped the big-reeled machine and chewed me out
in front of all my classmates,
not even bothering to march me to the coat room.
She thought I should be paying attention
because, she passionately explained,
these were AMERICAN young men, people’s neighbors, people’s sons.
I remember my initial embarrassment for being singled out,
then the shame of my indifference.
I share my passion and my compassion with my children,
hoping they’ll be influenced, as I was,
to open their hearts and minds to the suffering around them.
(Award Winning Photo By John Moore/Getty Images)
When I saw the picture of Mary McHugh
weeping on the grave of her fiance in Arlington National Cemetary,
I wept over my computer.
We’ll have holes in this generation, too.
But, maybe, we as a nation, will welcome home the vets
the way we should have in the 70’s.
The traveling, grim, marble memorial
should and can be the reminder we need
to keep history from repeating itself.
Welcome Home, Vets.